Black residents in Ferguson, Missouri are hoping for justice in the Michael Brown case but they are also bracing for the worst possible scenario: That a grand jury in St. Louis clears Police Officer Darren Wilson of shooting the unarmed teenager to death on August 9. A flurry of private meetings are taking place in St. Louis these days with black community leaders, local politicians, federal investigators and law enforcement officials who are already preparing for possible civil unrest if a federal grand jury decides not to indict Wilson.
While the grand jury is expected to make its decision in November, anxiety in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, intensified over the weekend after The New York Times reported that Wilson said he feared for his life moments before he shot Brown. And forensic tests have found the blood of Michael Brown on the gun, uniform and police car driven by Wilson. Many black residents are skeptical: They feel that leaks from grand jury testimony through the media are specifically designed to garner support for Wilson’s version of events in the court of public opinion.
“Many black folks here believe this is a set-up to let Wilson walk,” said one black longtime St. Louis resident.
I was in Ferguson in August to cover Michael Brown’s funeral. In the black community, there is a total distrust of the judicial process. Black folks – from the young and unemployed to the upper-middle class — don’t believe Wilson will stand trial for Michael Brown’s death and they feel the grand jury has been dragging its feet. It didn’t help that sources told The New York Times that, so far, there has not been enough evidence presented to the grand jury to indict Wilson. Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting. It seems like that would be enough evidence to indict and let Wilson stand trial and present all the facts in the sunshine.
On Saturday, Rev. Al Sharpton condemned Wilson’s reported testimony, saying Wilson’s claim to be in fear of his life is the “same excuse” as others who fatally shot African-American teenagers. Sharpton also announced a four-day rally he will lead in Ferguson from Oct. 31-Nov. 3 to support Michael Brown’s family.
“We were involved in Trayvon Martin. We were supportive of Jordan Davis,” Sharpton said during his weekly National Action Network rally in Harlem. “The strange thing is that all of them used the same excuse … The only gun there was Darren Wilson’s! Strange parallels with all of these cases.”
For the first time, Wilson’s account of the shooting was told through a story in the Times. Wilson told investigators he was trying to leave his car when Brown shoved him back in, the Times reported. Brown pinned Wilson in his car and tried to get his gun, which made him fear for his safety, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed government officials familiar with the federal civil rights case. Wilson told authorities that Brown hit and scratched him repeatedly, leaving bruises on his face and neck, according to The Times. FBI forensic tests showed the gun was fired twice in the car, with one bullet hitting Brown’s arm while the second one missed, the newspaper said.
In addition to Wilson’s uniform and gun, forensic tests found the teen’s blood on the interior door panel of his car, The Times said. But Wilson’s account did not include an explanation of why he shot at Brown numerous times even after they got out of the car, according to The Times. A preliminary autopsy showed the teen was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
Dorian Johnson, 22, who was walking with Brown on the street when the shooting occurred, told CNN that Wilson pulled up and told them to get on the sidewalk. Johnson said Wilson grabbed Brown by his neck, but he tried to pull away as the officer pulled him toward. Wilson drew his gun and fired, hitting Brown, Johnson said.
When Brown ran away, Wilson followed him and fired, according to Johnson. Brown turned around with his hands up and told the officer he was unarmed, but the officer fired and Brown hit the ground, Johnson said. Sharpton had a number of pointed questions for Wilson.
“First of all, if you stopped him — Michael Brown and his friend — walking down the street, what led to the scuffle? … Secondly, how does he and you get in your car? You trying to do what by yourself?” Sharpton asked. “Now, if I go with you with your story all the way to that — that Michael Brown was shot, gets up off you in the car — why are you trying to tell me that a man … ran back at you when he knew you had the gun and you already shot him?”
I don’t know what the grand jury will ultimately decide to do but I do know, according to the Times, that Wilson’s account did not explain why he shot Brown six times when Brown was unarmed.
Shouldn’t this critical piece of evidence factor into the grand jury’s much-anticipated decision?
What do you think?